Screwtape discusses voting
My Dearest Wormwood,
After receiving your most recent letter, on your advice I watched the video on quick and easy voting for normal people. I am surprised that this comes as a revelation to you, since We who are down below routinely allow our charges to vote for a wide variety of things using what our patients semi-jokingly refer to as the Chicago Method (“Vote early and often”) and what your video refers to as Approval Voting.
And, as befitting our station, we scrupulously respect their votes whenever suits our mood. Which is more often than not, because all voting methods have flaws. Surely Our Father has taught you all the details of Arrow’s Impossibility Theorem, which has dozens of applications to suffering and gaming. I myself learned it at an early age.
(A more pedantic member of our kind – although I doubt you will ever encounter one – may state that Arrow’s formal proof does not strictly apply here. Math is a realm of The Enemy – and as such I have no done no more than dabble, lest I be accused of heresy again – but I believe the idea generalizes. I will check with several experts I am dining on tonight).
Whenever a vote is proposed, you should of course make sure the outcome is as you desire. The stakes are high!
The video numbers make for a poor example for more interesting applications, so let us juggle them a bit. Surely even a youngster such as yourself is familiar with creative accounting?
- The five vegetarians prefer: Veggies, Burgers (w/Veggie option), Steak (in that order)
- The three carnivores prefer: Steak, Burger, Veggie
- The lone Burger guy prefers: Burger, Steak, Veggie
In all cases the 1st two are “acceptable,” so burgers get nine votes, and is an acceptable compromise.
First of all, note the obvious flaw with the system. It punishes excellence. This means that, despite all of its problems, you should suggest Approval Voting whenever possible. Your goal should be to promote mediocrity and lazy thinking in all aspects. Do this consistently and your patients will always dine out on the most milquetoast and bland meals possible, never taking chances, never risking sublime beauty!
Do not mistake my critique of this system – which is done as a general exercise to instruct my favorite nephew – for a serious criticism!
Now, let us make a small change.
If, on the final restaurant named, people don’t vote on something acceptable because they prefer the currently winning option. Now, so long as Burgers are listed last, Veggies will win, because the Vegetarians, being more delighted with the currently winning option (named first or second), decline to raise their hands for Burgers. Which will now lose 5-4, despite being a unanimous winner before!
Then simply force those shuffling carnivores towards their tofu. Demand their happiness while they respect the group’s decision. Be sure to smile broadly as you choke down your okra. Sing praises towards democracy, which levels all of our patients in the same way that water always strives for the lowest resting place.
(As to my prior criticism, I simply state that while Vegetarian restaurants can be excellent in theory, much like excellent non-alcoholic beer it does not occur in practice).
As always, he who sets the vote order (and he who votes slowest, deciding after others who have raised their hands) has an immense amount of control, particularly if they well judge the preferences of others.
These tricks (along with a few more which I dare not reveal, lest this letter is intercepted) will let you control the outcome with ease, which is why we are serving a slightly maggoty meatloaf for the thousandth night in a row instead of the exquisite venison or lovely pouched trout, both clearly visible in the cafeteria.
Your affectionate uncle,
[H/T to Chris Farrell’s twitter feed]
My first (semi-joking) comment was that the Tao of Gaming method was to have everyone list all their options, then reject them all and walk away. This prevents mediocre games, although I admit that also has problems. I had thought I tweeted a joke about that but, much like Screwtape, I prefer the old method and send my messages encoded in the pitches and volumes of screams, although I do keep up with the times and try to limit my conversation to at most 140 screams.
An amusing coincidence — I was already thinking about the Impossibility Theorem earlier today, since my side project incorporates a quote by Kenneth Arrow in the next chapter.